A Jolly Holiday in the Sun?

Air travel is getting so unpleasant and stressful recently. The newspapers are full of horror stories about long delays at check-in and security delays and concerns. This letter was published in the Daily Mail on Tuesday 8th August 2017. We wholeheartedly agree with most of the sentiments.

A letter by Graham Ludlam of South Wingfield, Derbyshire

“I really do wonder why people go on holiday abroad – it’s hassle from the word go. Once you’ve booked (at double the price during the school holidays) you start worrying whether the hotel/resort/villa actually exists.

Even without the long queues at security and passport control, there’s chaos at the airport, which is where the rip-offs start; extra costs for baggage and people with long legs and your children are at the other end of the plane unless you pay more to sit together. Then there’s the extortion at the bureau de change with their appalling exchange rates if you have forgotten to order any currency before your trip.

Have you remembered to get an all-singing, all-dancing travel insurance policy at great expense to cover you for every eventuality – apart, that is, from what you end up claiming for? And don’t get me started on air traffic control strikes.

Once you finally arrive, you queue to pick up a hire car and discover that with waivers and must-have extras, it’s twice the price that you bargained for. At the resort, if you manage to get a sun lounger, prepare to be hassled by timeshare sharks and crooked claims firms patrolling the beach.

Later, you’ll get home to find that your car has been used for joyriding and rally cross while at ‘secure’ airport parking and your house has been ransacked because you posted pictures on social media of your family having fun thousands of miles from home.

And if you choose to holiday in Britain – I’m off to Bournemouth – the return train ticket and a week in a two-star hotel is the same price as a business class return flight to New Zealand. Of course, it won’t stop raining until the children are back at school. Happy holidays everyone!

With thanks to the Daily Mail and Graham Ludlam for the use of this letter.

Considering a ‘staycation’ or holiday in Great Britain? See our selection of No Fly Holidays in the UK

 

Join the Staycation holiday boom

Join the stay at home holiday boom with a staycation in the UK

So many people are thoroughly sick of flying and airports, for so many reasons. The heightened security, the check in delays and the Brexit effect.

Britains countryside has never been more beautiful. Travelling is easy and British Holiday Parks are incredibly good vale for money. The chaos at Heathrow in June 2017 when British Airways computer crashed and caused turmoil for millions of people and the falling value of the pound in Europe has caused many people to explore the idea of a holiday in the UK.

The choice of places to stay in Britain is very varied. At the budget end of the market are the many tranquil campsites, mainly located along the South Coast. Here, after buying an inexpensive tent and a few other camping essentials you can spend glorious days or even weeks in the great outdoors. the investment is not wasted either as a good quality tent should last for many years and will mean that future holidays will be incredibly cost-effective. The children in particular will love camping and will join in the fun. Our children, when small, loved fetching the water and helping to put the tent up. Our son even cooked breakfast every morning, out in the fresh air. Camp cookers are amazingly cheap. We paid £15.95 for ours and eventually invested in another one.

If you don’t relish buying your own tent, then why not opt for a mobile home holiday. Modern mobile homes are spacious and comfortable, with a range of models and prices to suit all budgets and all family sizes. Most are situated on holiday parks, where you will also often find a swimming pool and sometimes, a bar. Even the smallest holiday parks offer some entertainment and many are situated within 20 minutes stroll to a village, where you will find one or two shops and a pub.

You don’t have to self-cater of course. Many of the holiday parks offer fast food takeaways or are situated near to a restaurant. Those that do not have these facilities will undoubtedly have quite a few local food outlets that deliver to the park. Just look for the menu leaflets in reception.

Renting a holiday cottage is also very popular way to have a holiday or short break in the UK. There are well over 2000 holiday cottages to rent in the UK and there is certainly a property to suit every family, however large. You will find all mod cons in most holiday cottages and some even have a log burner installed. Your fist basket of logs is often free so you can curl up beside a glowing log fire in total peace and tranquility. Most have a fridge and washing machine and some even have a dishwasher.

Top tips for a staycation holiday

If you are driving yourself, check the car before you go. Halfords offer a free car check for safety and tyres etc. Make sure your tyre pressures are correct, especially if the car is heavily loaded with camping equipment and the family. You may even have to hire a roof rack or a trailer if you have a lot of equipment.

Plan your journey and the holiday. Check your route on Google or enter the post code of your destination into your satnav before you go. Make sure that you are topped up with fuel to avoid stopping on the way and paying excessive prices. You may find that buying a map of the local area will pay dividends when you are planning walks in the area or when you are planning outings.

Keep the children amused. Many kids now will withdraw into their own electronic devices but try to plan to keep them amused. If you are camping, involve the kids in the planning and the packing so that they can help when you arrive at your site. There are lots of little jobs that the children can do, such as fetching the water and hammering in th tent pegs, so make sure that they are involved.

Remember some activities for all the family. Puzzle books are fun, as are local guides to the area. Part of the fun of family holidays is doing things together. For instance, if you are going to the fossil-rich Jurassic Coast, remember to take a small hammer and a chisel for splitting rocks on the beach. Our children used to have many hours of fun doing this, even in the rain.

Don’t forget your bikes if you have them. The areas around holiday parks are often quite peaceful so you may feel happy to ride on the local tracks and roads. If you have bikes, you may want to invest in a bike rack, Bikes can often be hired once you arrive at the holiday park so take helmets if you have them.

Make sure that you pack clothing for all weathers. naturally, you hope to be sitting in the sunshine, but the weather can change dramatically in a few hours in the UK. Pack waterproofs, hats and a brolly to make sure that you can be out and about having fun, whatever the weather.

See holidays in the UK | See holidays parks in the UK |

Theatre Vouchers with a meal for two

I stumbled upon an amazing deal the other day. I was looking for a birthday gift for a relative who I know has a week’s holiday in London every summer.

A company called Celebrate in London are currently offering vouchers for both a top West End show and dinner for two people in either Covent Garden or Leicester Square. The vouchers are valid for over 20 top West End shows, such as Mama Mia, Half a Sixpence, Annie, An American in Paris, Phantom of the Opera and many more. The vouchers can be used anytime within 12 months of issue and are valid for Friday and Saturday performances, as well as matinees and weekdays. What a bargain at £99.99 all in!

I know that my relative will be thrilled with their birthday gift, as most people would be. She will be in London anyway, but even if you just stay overnight these vouchers are a real bargain.

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What is it like to travel across Europe by train?

We started our journey from London’s St Pancras station. The station retains much of its original charm but has been brought bang up to date for use as an international terminal.

So that we could start our journey in a relaxed fashion, we stayed at a Premier Inn hotel in Euston Road, just a few minutes walk away from St Pancras. This meant that a short stroll started our holiday in style, but as we were catching an early train, we missed the hotel breakfast (see below).

St Pancras station has quite a few shops to pass the time while waiting for the train. We bought both breakfast and lunch from the Marks & Spencer shop which opens at 7am. Food is also available on Eurostar once you are on board but we found it more fun to buy our own and have a picnic breakfast. We rather rather naughtily added some very clever wine glasses which come pre-filled with either red or white wine. These have a peel off top, like a yogurt carton and made our lunchtime picnic seem even more fun as the French countryside sped by. Well, we were on holiday after all! Marks & Spencer also sell little cans of double gin, whisky or vodka, already blended with a suitable mixer.

Arrange your own No-Fly European holiday – See Rail Europe for more rail journey details.

The journey to Paris passed quickly as we enjoyed our picnic breakfast on Eurostar. My wife Chris suffers from claustrophobia and was rather anxious about the actual “under the sea” part, but she need not have worried as she barely noticed. The windows go dark for twenty minutes or so, then suddenly the sun comes out and the French countryside appears.

All too soon, as we really enjoyed travelling on Eurostar, we arrived at Paris Gar du Nord station, where we disembarked, as the next stage of our journey involved crossing Paris to Gar du Lyon station. At Gar du Nord you will find a selection of shops and cafes, a bureau de change and free wi-fi for 20 minutes – easily enough for checking emails etc.

After a short wait at Gar du Lyon we joined an extremely comfortable double decker TGV train, operated by the very efficient SNCF, which in our case was heading for sunny Spain. We were on the lower deck on this occasion and we were soon amazed at the speed the train travelled at. Speeds up to 200mph are often attained by the high speed trains, yet we did not feel any real sensation of speed. There is a speedometer at the end of all the carriages so it was fun to see what speed we were achieving.

The outside temperature gradually climbed as we crossed France at high speed. We very much enjoyed our picnic lunch and our glasses of wine, which helped to pass the time. As we pulled into  Marseille the outside temperature showed as 39c on the display in our carriage. A wall of heat hit us as the train doors opened but as we pulled away towards Spain the air conditioning soon regulated the temperature again.

We were on our way to Spain – by train. What fun! Beats flying any day and still totally relaxed.

We travelled with Great Rail Journeys who also operate Rail Discoveries. Their range of holidays by train is huge and oh, so exciting. Let the train take the strain, as they used to say for British Rail.

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Why do so many of us hate flying?

Very few people actually enjoy flying. Most of us, if we tolerate it at all, just grin and bear it.

The frustration usually starts even before we get to the airport. It is all very strange and can be confusing. Unless we are very regular air passengers, there is the stress of finding the airport, then finding the correct car park and correct terminal. The rush to get the baggage out of the car or the coach, then the long, long wait to check in and to get rid of our cases can be very stressful.

Finally, we check in. Oh the relief at being free from wheeling those heavy suitcases about. We now just have our hand luggage to look after and can queue up for that very expensive cup of coffee and, if we can justify the cost, perhaps a slice of cake.

The children, if we have them with us, are getting bored by now, so perhaps you can find something to amuse them at an airport shop? A model aircraft perhaps? Only £80 to you sir. Go on dad!

Eventually, after what seems like hours of boredom and torture, we are allowed through security and into the departure lounge. First of all, we have that embarrassing search where we have to remove our shoes and belt. We paddle about in our socks, holding up our trousers with one hand while we try to load the conveyor with our hand luggage, phone, laptop, keys, camera, coins, jewellery and whatever else may set the their alarm off. We walk through the gate hoping that it does not get triggered by anything that we have forgotten or the fillings in our teeth. If we are lucky, we are allowed to get dressed again and proceed through to the very expensive departure lounge. If we are unlucky, as happened once to me, our cases are emptied and thoroughly searched with a hand-held sniffer device. The person searching will have no sense of humour so don’t make any jokes or even light-hearted comments as they will not be appreciated. On this occasion, I had stupidly packed a friend’s outdoor clock next to two large bars of chocolate and the batteries for the clock. I cannot imagine what that combination looked like on the X-ray. They were not amused as the lady who searched my case said that chocolate looks like Semtex to an X-ray machine. So never, ever mention the ‘B’ word or you are guaranteed to miss your flight. My wife had also accidentally packed some liquid cosmetics in her hand luggage and was thoroughly searched and roundly told off by a Rosa Kleb doppelgänger. The expensive cosmetic was thrown into a bin in front of her, accompanied by a smug look. Thinking this rather funny I went to take a photograph and was quickly pounced upon and sternly told that photographing the staff was not allowed. Even the most patient of us get fed up when the Bin Laden lookalike swans through the gate without comment while innocent old ladies are searched and questioned.

Once in the departure lounge, there are yet more boring hours to pass. Why is it that wherever you are going on holiday it takes at least a day to get there? We have to visit the ‘duty free’ shop for something to do. The shop is just an excuse to sell bored people very overpriced bottles of spirits and even more overpriced bottles of water. Small bottles of water selling at ten times the supermarket price are the norm. You can’t take your own water with you of course so you have to pay whatever they ask as you remember how dry your throat gets on an aeroplane.

The children, if you have them, will invariably also choose some horrendously sticky sweets or biscuits to increase their chances of air sickness. While in the departure lounge we may also try to allay the boredom by buying a meal. “Have whatever you like kids” you say, while in warm and generous holiday mood, as you see another £60 or so of your precious holiday money disappearing into the ever-greedy till of a fast food outlet, in exchange for some artery-blocking rubbish that you would not allow them to eat any other time. Don’t worry if you do not have any children. There are plenty to go round as you will find once you sit down to eat and when you board the aircraft.

At last, after we have glanced at the departure screen so many times that we are beginning to feel like a deranged stalker with OCD, our flight is called. Is it just me who has always chosen to sit near to gate 1 when our aircraft is suddenly announced as departing from gate 46? Why do they keep the departure gate number a secret until the last minute? We grab our hand luggage, wait patiently for the child or partner who has chosen just that moment to go to the toilet and rush off to the boarding gate. How the people monitoring the security cameras must laugh! Naturally, we needn’t have rushed or even screamed through the toilet door at our tardy child as there is now another long delay. We all stand around like cattle waiting at the abattoir, with a slightly fixed smile and a hopeful expression. At least the cattle don’t know what is coming.

A sweetly-voiced airline operative eventually announces that we can form an orderly queue and show our tickets and passports yet again. A last minute fevered check ensues as all passengers pat their pockets and grin with relief as they confirm, yet again, that they have not lost either boarding pass nor their passport. We slowly shuffle forward and finally it is our turn to rush across to the waiting bus. Again, no need to have rushed as the last few passengers slowly saunter across to the bus and stop to sort out their hand luggage and their many carrier bags full of sandwiches, cakes, duty-free bottles and biscuits before boarding. Come on Mrs Pudding, they might take off without us.

Annoyingly, the very people who were in no rush to get on the bus are now first off, while the rest of us try to be patient as the very fat lady in front of us struggles to get to the doorway of the bus as she gathers her numerous bags of bottles, biscuits, cakes and perfume. Finally, we are climbing the steps into the aircraft. If we are flying with a budget airline, such as EasyJet, there is now the usual scrum to get our seats together. If we have been delayed by Mr and Mrs Pudding on the bus, we often find that we are not sitting together, with half the party at the other end of the plane. If we have pre-booked seats, this is that magic moment when we find that we are sitting right in front of Mr and Mrs Pudding’s increasingly noisy and grubby children. I wonder why they wanted such a large family?

Now sadly, believe it or not, not all children are well behaved these days, unless they are, of course, our own, who can usually do no wrong in our eyes. The children sitting behind us will subject your seat to a constant rhythmic kicking, especially if you are trying to sleep. Turning around and glaring at them can be dangerous as well, as Mr Pudding is invariably sour-faced, built like a gorilla and will be over-sensitive to any criticism of his delightful children, real or implied. The mother will lie down, cover her eyes with a pretty blindfold and recline her seat into the lap of the person behind her, secure in the certain knowledge that the airline staff should be looking after her children anyway. She will probably also wear earplugs, so that she arrives relaxed and looking her best. You on the other hand have the prospect of arriving hot, sweaty, irritable and exhausted. Children cry when their ears hurt, they cry from boredom, they cry when they feel sick or sometimes they Children just cry because they can.

After another age, if you are lucky, the aircraft will start to taxi. If not, yet another delay will be announced as the overworked ground crew desperately try to find the luggage of the passenger who did not turn up for the flight. Airlines are not allowed to fly with unaccompanied luggage, for obvious security reasons and in the present high security climate this is a good idea. The aircrew will now start the fascinating safety lecture which they have performed thousands of times before. They will explain what to do if the masks descend from the ceiling of the plane and also where to find your inflatable life vest. Remember, you put your mask on first before helping others. You will be told not to actually inflate this while you are inside the aircraft, so presumably you blow it up as you whizz down the escape chute into the sea? All this is carefully explained on a card in the seat pocket, which nobody ever reads. The aircraft then rumbles along what feels like very badly maintained potholed roads until it parks expectantly at the start of the runway.

Finally, the cabin crew all take their seats and strap themselves in. The engine sound increases to a fever pitch, then continues to increase far past the point that you would expect any engine to stand without falling to bits. My car goes quite fast with the engine at 2000 revolutions per minute, yet a jet engine can run at 36,000 revolutions per minute. Scary stuff. I hope they have kept the bearings well oiled. You can feel the tension in the other passengers as you look around the cabin. Some are staring straight ahead, gripping the arms of the seat with white knuckles. Some are pretending to look nonchalant or staring blankly out of the window as though they have never seen grass verges before. Few will admit that they are frightened, yet all are aware that take-off and landing are by far the most dangerous times for an aircraft of any size. The engine noise increases to an impossible pitch, then the pilot releases the brake and massive acceleration forces us back into our seat. We rumble faster and faster along the runway until it seems that we must soon run out of room. Surely it is time to rotate, you think.

The pilot pulls back on the yoke or more likely, the computer makes a decision concerning ground speed. Suddenly, the rumbling along the rough surface of the runway stops and you see the ground fast disappearing below you. The aircraft tilts to a ridiculous angle and you start to feel relief that you are airborne at last. The relief is short lived however as your anxiety returns when the pilot immediately halves the throttle settings as soon as we are a few hundred feet up, to comply with noise regulations and to increase fuel economy. The engines grow suddenly quiet and you secretly wish that he had stayed on full throttle for a few more seconds. After all, it is not his fuel bill is it?

The next few hours pass in something of a boring daze. As in hospital, each hour on an aircraft feels like at least four and you look forward to any event to break the monotony. Airlines know this of course, so they are soon round with expensive drinks and novelties. If the flight includes a meal then this highlight is eagerly anticipated, although the loud complaints of the children behind can be irritating. The dolls-house size of the portions is usually met by amusement by most adults but children will complain loudly if deprived of their usual diet of chips, turkey twizzlers and tomato ketchup. Mum will ignore them while dad will demand the missing tomato ketchup from the by now very frazzled flight attendant and glower at you if you stare to hard as he does so.

The rest of the flight will pass in yet more extreme boredom, broken only by more kicking of your seat by the mini-lout behind. If you are lucky, the person in front will not recline their seat into your meal, forcing you to fold up your tray and to perch your drink and meal on your chest, just under your chin. Perhaps you will be lucky enough not to have the seat behind the baby or toddler who (quite naturally) does not know about clearing their ears by swallowing and who is screaming as though they are being tortured, which they are, in a way. Try to remember kindly that it is not their fault and that most children hate holidays anyway. Finally, just when you thought your own boredom and torture would never end, we will start to descend and will be on final approach for thirty minutes or so. If it takes so long to climb up there in the first place, then so long to descend again, many of us will wonder why they did not fly lower in the first place and save all that climbing and descending nonsense.

With much ear-popping and swallowing, we eventually descent to a couple of thousand feet and can see houses, swimming pools and roads with tiny cars on them. The children behind us will still have amazing energy from all the sweets and fizzy pop that they have consumed and will loudly explain what they can see to their parents and to the entire cabin. You will fly around like this for what seems like ages although there is not usually any truth in the myth that the pilot is just looking for the airport.

Finally, with what many pilots still amusingly call a controlled crash, we hit the runway with a bang and the co-pilot will apply the brakes. It seems to amuse him or her to stop the aircraft as quickly and violently as is possible, so their passengers have to make a grab for their carrier bags full of bottles of spirits and uneaten biscuits, before they disappear under the seats in front.

After a particularly hard landing, one co-pilot is reputed to have said over the tannoy “Please leave you safety belts fastened while my colleague attempts to taxi what is left of the aircraft to the terminal building”. Oh you card!

After taxiing for what seems an age, the aircraft finally arrives at the stand reserved for it or sometimes just randomly stops on a concrete apron a long way from the terminal building. Eventually the doors are opened and the other passengers rush to get out as quickly as possible. The thought crosses your mind that they may know something that you don’t but finally after the panic subsides you reach the top of the steps.

Whatever time of the day or night you land, if you are anywhere south of Paris a wall of heat will meet you, in stark contrast to the almost chilly air conditioned atmosphere that you have become used to. You too rush down the steps, eager to get into the cool terminal building. If you are lucky you may walk straight into the terminal building but all too often it means a cramped and sweaty bus ride to get there. We landed at Limoges airport once and the pilot taxied right up to the door of the tiny terminal building. That was what flying used to be like. Once inside, everyone rushes off to the luggage carousel, in the vain hope that the luggage unloaders are eager to unload the aircraft. Although you may be longing for the toilet, you don’t dare go or allow the children to go in case you miss your luggage arriving onto the carousel. People crowd around the carousel, necks straining to see if the first cases have arrived on it. You gently try to push your way to the front, trying not to elbow Mr Gorilla out of the way. Other passengers will form a solid human barrier to stop you getting anywhere near the front and even when, forty minutes later, a few cases appear on the belt, you doubt your own ability to remember what your own cases look like and to reach across to them if you do remember. Your own massive cases will have doubled in weight by the time you lift them off the carousel and you will make a mental note to pack very much less next time.

Safety
Flying is generally incredibly safe and very few aircraft crash every year. At any one time, day or night, there are around six thousand aircraft in the air at any one time. However, just because flying is safe does not make it enjoyable. Air crashes are incredibly rare although that is not a lot of consolation if you happen to be on the one that does. The last five minutes must be the worst as it takes that long to hurtle towards the ground.

Me?
I let the train take the strain. Train crashes are even rarer. Flying is too much like hard work.

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Why are airports so stressful?

Is it just me? I have flown hundreds of times, but each time I approach an airport, my stomach knots up and I feel quite tense. I know that there is lots of time before my flight and that I can park the car without rushing, yet I still feel tense.

Yet what could possibly go wrong? I only have to sit for a few hours on a hard metal seat, watching the monitor like a hawk in case there are any changes to my take off time. I am not afraid of flying and know that it is a very safe form of transport but I still tense up each time that I sit and wait. I usually plan to pass the time by having a meal, such as it is. I then wander into the duty free shop where I am often tempted to buy vastly overpriced sweets and biscuits or invest in some unheard of brand of whisky or gin. I know that it will all be very much cheaper when I arrive at my destination, but it is something to do and passes the time.

I am sure that everyone feels just a little tense before any long journey, but a self drive holiday or one by train is so very relaxing, compared with air travel.

We travelled to Spain by train recently and it was so unhurried compared with the stress of the airport.